Thursday, March 21, 2013

Our Imploding World

We can envy the men who lived in the 19th century, and even those who thrived in the first half of the 20th. The future lay before them, promising unimaginable wonders in science, technology, medicine, and industry, in man's mastery of the world. There were, of course, wars and political scandals, and a few economic twists and bends that inconvenienced everyone. But, overall, despite the occasional impediments and transitory anxieties, the future lay unobstructed before men and that was a mood taken for granted.

In 1876, several months before Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode to their end at Little Big Horn, Alexander Graham Bell was granted Patent No. 174,465 for his working telephone. By 1883, Britain's Gilbert and Sullivan were "corresponding" by telephone over what to do about the kinks in The Mikado.

The infant strides of telephony led ultimately to the Internet. Western civilization in this period had the hallmarks of a confident extrovert, a "reaching out" phenomenon that led to the moon-landings and the robotic exploration of Mars and other planets, not to mention unparalleled advances in medicine, agriculture, and leisure time.

In the beginning of the latter half of the 20th century, the sobering residue of the Depression and World War II was tenuously offset by the prosperity-induced complacency of the 1950's. In books, newscasts, and movies, nay-sayers and doomsters virtually cornered the market in heralding man's malaise and predicting his ultimate demise. The optimism began to change into a cloying trepidation, an indistinct but very tangible uneasiness, marked by a loss of faith in what the future would bring and a tendency to wallow in guilt-ridden introversion. While science and technology seemed to bound forward at breathtaking speeds, unaffected by the change in mood, something was left behind to wither and gesture limply at the future.

The world seemed to be out of focus, and to grow fuzzier by the year, inebriated on some kind of alcohol that allowed people to see pink elephants and candy-striped zebras and shimmering Cities on the Hill surrounded by palm and date trees. But the pink elephants were wreaking havoc in china shops, the candy-striped zebras turned out to be anti-American academicians and intellectuals and vociferous but venal politicians, and the shimmering Cities on the Hill were being characterized as dehumanizing dystopias. Too many Americans developed a kind of cultural claustrophobia for which there was no apparent cure.

As the century progressed from the 20th to the 21st, the world seemed to be imploding, bursting in on itself, with institutions, political and moral norms and even science collapsing in on what seemed to be a vacuum.

This was nowhere better dramatized than in the opening pages of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, when Eddie Willers is shocked to learn that the seemingly imperishable oak tree he had once revered was indeed perishable.

…He felt safe in the oak tree's presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.*

Our Western civilization, like the heart of Eddie Willers' oak tree, has been rotted out for decades. We are just learning the extent and scale of that rot. We no longer feel comfortable in our own country, and civilization seems to be the object of numerous lightning strikes: the growth of collectivism and its various applications of statism; a tolerance for various kinds of mysticism, from a vengeful environmentalism to a belligerent Islam; the denigration of individualism and the enthronement of the mob, the group, and the tribe; group warfare for the spoils of statism, for the wealth looted from bewildered and defenseless producers.

What is the nature of the rot? Basically, it is the disparagement and abandonment of reason and the substitution of its numerous antipodes: multiculturalism, "diversity," egalitarianism, militant subjectivism, organized envy, moral and economic relativism, irrationalism as a protected choice; systems of whim-worshipping non-absolutism. And an ingrained, inculcated anathema for reason, reality, individual rights, and capitalism, an anathema taught in our schools and flaunted in our culture from our theaters to Capitol Hill. 

The worst mistake to make is to ascribe the incremental collapse of civilization to some all-powerful, ineluctable, omnipotent conspiratorial force of evil. Evil is not "satanic." It is essentially a parasite. It feeds on weakness. Evil possesses the cunning of a moocher. Like jackals, vultures, and hyenas, it trails the greater predator, and moves in on the prey after it has been waylaid. It has no plan but to consume the scraps left by a greater predator.

The greater predator is anti-reason. Islam, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, the Muslim Brotherhood – all the usual and numerous suspects we take for granted today, all the villains we rail against but whose origins we remain ignorant of but remain astounded by their callous indifference to reason – are merely the parasitical consumers of the living and the dead.

When men begin to grasp that the evil that has been enveloping them in stages for decades, and which promises to suffocate them, is not the product of some mystical power that cannot be opposed – when they grasp that their lives depend not on faith or random happenstance or on "good intentions" – but on a fealty to reason and the sanctity of their lives as volitional beings imbued with the capacity for reason, then they will be able to combat the evil. Then, and only then, will they recognize that evil can triumph only by default. It is otherwise powerless to enslave or destroy.

I include here some issues on which I have recently commented in response to various articles that have appeared, or which came to my attention and address the evil but which struggle to grasp the nature of the evil.

For example, the principal of a Massachusetts school decided that to honor its honor students would infringe upon or harm the "self-esteem" of students who had not made the honors roll. So he cancelled the school's honors night. This is scoreless kids' soccer games gone mad, and is an instance of how corrupting the notion of egalitarianism can be.

A Massachusetts principal has been criticized for canceling his school's Honors Night, saying it could be 'devastating' to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades. reports that David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event.

"The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients' families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average," Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents, the station reported.

Fabrizio also said he decided to make the change because academic success can be influenced by the amount of support a student receives at home and not all students receive the same level of emotional and academic support at home.

The second instance concerns the common moral premises shared by statist Democrats, in particular President Barack Obama, and the morally rudderless Republican Party.

Speaking to Newsmax TV at CPAC 2013 on Thursday, [Rick] Santorum believes the nation’s leaders currently lack the ability to persuade Americans to aim for greatness.

“We have material wealth because of technology, yet people feel like they’re suffering now,” Santorum said. “I make the argument that’s because leaders and culture are leading people to think there’s nothing to suffer for and that there’s no great aim. We have to inspire people so they’re willing to make the sacrifices.”

However, Santorum is quick to point out that advancing a platform that allows individuals to succeed on their own should not mean abandoning those in need….

“If we just say we need less government and it’s everyone for himself, we won’t win elections,” Santorum said. “We have to do what our founders did, which is not just to take care of ourselves, but take care of our fellow Americans.”

Excuse me, but isn't this what Obama has been trying to drill into our heads, too? Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice? To "those in need"? But this has been the leitmotif of the Republican Party, ever since, say, the presidential race of 1912, which the Republicans handed the election to the statist Democrats and Woodrow Wilson because they said, "Me, too!" And I shudder to imagine how Santorum perceives the Founders, who in his mind must have been a pack of blithering, self-sacrificing altruists.

And what did the Founders strive to create between 1775 and 1787? A "democracy" or a constitutional republic? To hear it on the lips and in the words of virtually every columnist, politician and teacher today, it was a "democracy." For example, one of the most prolific and perceptive conservative columnists today is Daniel Greenfield, who also regularly falls into the trap of advocating "democracy." Arguing eloquently and effectively in his March 16th column, "Democracy Is Not The Answer," that a policy of "exporting" democracy to countries that have little or no history or notion of limited government and individual rights, and in fact are prima facie culturally hostile to such ideas, a policy that has backfired on America more than once, he concludes:

The belief that we are meant to export democracy is a Cold War relic and the assumption that exporting democracy also exports our values is clearly wrong. It isn't democracy that makes free people; it's individual responsibility. Democracy with individual responsibility makes for a free nation. Democracy without individual responsibility is only another name for tyranny.

Democracy was never the answer, anywhere, because anywhere it has been tried, it has lead to tyranny. The etymological root meaning of the term is "mob rule," as suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary ("popular government – people having rule, sway, or authority"). "Democracy" implies that no checks are made on the power or authority of the people or their elected officers or representatives. "Democracy" relieves both individuals and their elected representatives of individual responsibility and political responsibility. Our Founders, conscientious and well-read students of ancient and modern political history, understood the dangers inherent in democracy and labored to create a constitutional republic, that is, one which enumerated the powers of government and protected individual rights from populist or mob nullification. That is what our Bill of Rights – now under attack by the left and the Obama administration and defended haphazardly and ineffectually by conservatives – was all about. "Democracy" and "republic" are not synonyms, although the latter term has been largely appropriated by dictatorships (the various "people's republics").

Greenfield, in the same column, stresses that a nation's citizens must be amenable to totalitarian rule before a totalitarian can take over. He points out that most prominently the Russians and Germans in the last century "democratically" elected themselves dictators, and so have the Argentines, Indians, Venezuelans, Chinese, and other populations (with much help from blatant thuggery). The ancient Greeks and Romans consistently elected themselves tyrants (democracy in action). Most recently, Muslims elected themselves the Brotherhood, an organization which basically wishes to make its election to power the last in Egypt. Muslims who voted against the Brotherhood ironically wanted also to continue subscribing to Islam, but a more "benign" kind that wouldn't enforce Sharia to the extent that the Brotherhood proposed. Well, the Egyptians have learned the hard way that you can't have your Islam and eat it, too.

But what kind of a person would vote for his own subjugation? Here is a hint, provided by Abigail Esman in her article, "Staggering Number of Women Converting to Islam" of March 12th.

The first thing the Dutch girl did once she’d converted to Islam was change her name – to Soumaya, she says, because “she was the first martyr. She was prepared to die for Allah.”

Soumaya, née Aphrodite, is one of a wave of tens of thousands of Westerners who convert to Islam every year, more than 75 percent of whom, astonishingly, are women. Equally surprising is the fact that most of these women gravitate to conservative Islamic groups – the more misogynistic and oppressive ones – insisting all the while that they feel “liberated” and “free.”

….That this fact is not explained to these women and young girls is what has many feminists concerned, not only about Muslim women in general, but particularly, about converts, who are, as it were, handed Islam in small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates.

Most of these young women display little self-confidence or ability to define their own values and behavior – qualities that make them easily influenced by others, and susceptible especially to those who offer up a lifestyle option that relinquishes them from responsibility for their actions, that gives them a code of behavior and the ease of attributing what they do or wear or eat to God and not to self. [Italics mine.]

Esman's description of women who voluntarily erase their own identities as individuals and trade them for being selfless ciphers of Islam can easily be applied to anyone who trades the responsibility for his own life and actions for being a ward and dependent of the state, indistinguishable from all other wards and dependents. These are the same individuals who display little self-confidence or the ability to define their own values and behavior; Islam, or Obama, for example, can relieve them of any kind of moral compass but the one that points to what others say and do, especially if that "other" is a man who hands them a Utopia in "small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates," as Obama has served up his socialist agenda to countless men whose only ambition is to be lead and rewarded for following.

Men who are willing to surrender their own selves and independence in the name of any collectivist "other-ism" necessarily will call for the sacrifice of others if that would mean "spreading the wealth" around, "a little" or "a lot."

What neither the converts to Islam nor the converts to Obamaism grasp is that both systems are nihilist in means and ends. While they may derive some sadistic satisfaction from seeing their moral betters impoverished or extinguished, they will learn sooner or later that their own numberless masses can also be deemed expendable by their leader and the state.

The ongoing implosion we are witnessing today and will witness for some time to come can be checked only if men rediscover the role and necessity of reason that underlies our country and Western civilization and perpetuates them if they choose to. The only alternative is to perish from the falling debris, whether that consists of the First and Second Amendments or the smashed dreams and shattered hopes and the plundered wealth of the victims.  

*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. New York: Dutton/Penguin 35th Anniversary Edition, 1992. p. 5


Anonymous said...

Ed, thank you for a meticulous analysis of our morally bankrupt culture and the thieves who've instigated the theft. It's the thinkers of your stature that our country needs if it is to re-emerge from the bog of mental lethargy it has been sinking in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ed for another excellent essay. I will add that World War I was the major turning point in Western history. From then on, the numerous enemies of civilization have been infecting the American people with various forms of unreason. From the comrades of the 1920s to the Islam apologists/enablers of today, their goal is the same.

Edward Cline said...

Grant: I agree that WWI was a turning point, but for all the waste of that conflict, and the laying of the foundation of statism here, it only stalled the optimism, not suffocated it, which is what we're seeing today. Except in sites like this one.

Dominique Nieto said...

Thank you for this essay, Mr. Cline.
And thank you even more for Hugh Kenrick and the universe of Sparrowhawk.
(I have just begun Book 3)

BLNelson said...

As always a cogent analysis. I look for your posts (every day I hope to see a new one) to tell the brutal truth that everyone needs to hear, but most unfortunately won't. I have a question though. Many people are in favor of inititives and referendums when legislators will not do what these people want them to do. This referendum/initiative process seems a form of "democracy" - mob rule - to me. Am I thinking correctly about this?

Edward Cline said...

BLNelson: In the context of a constitutional republic, that is, one envisioned by the Founders, no, referenda are not a form of democracy or mob rule. They would be ad hoc proposals for changes in procedures, or even in gerrymandering practices to establish districts to be represented in Congress (or even in state legislatures (just as examples of proper referenda, there would be more). No referenda would be legitimate if they proposed to violate individual rights, and especially not if Congress were prohibited by a "28th Amendment" from regulating or interfering with trade among individuals and corporations and so on. So, referenda proposing to prohibit abortions, or imposing restrictions on speech, or permitting the arbitrary power to zone property development, or the display of frowned-upon things in private shops (e.g., Bloomberg's proposal to force merchants to hide cigarettes in New York City) wouldn't be recognized and would ideally be stricken down by the courts. No referenda would be recognized that expanded a government's power beyond its enumerated powers.

On the other hand, a referendum that proposed to corral or limit a government's power to declare eminent domain on private property would be an example of a proper referendum, or to more strictly define a government's "right of way" if the right-of-way was connected with one of the proper functions of government: the police or courts or military defense of the country.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ed, yes the damage was uneven. Naturalism quickly came to dominate literature. However, Romanticism remained strong in the new motion picture industry. The demise of adult film is one of the saddest things about the current moral/cultural degeneration.

Edward Cline said...

Grant: The demise of adult film is for me one of the most telling signs of degeneration. Adults direct and adults appear in today's films, most of which are not "adult" in the sense that they address rational moral or esthetic issues. They're either stupid or politically correct or politically intended. For example, John Stahl's "Leave Her to Heaven" (1945) is my conception of an "adult" film. (You can watch it for free on YouTube here.) There's been nothing produced recently that comes near to matching its direction, acting, cinematography, and editing.

Another surprisingly adult film is "The 13th Warrior" (1999), a rarity among films made in the last 30-40 years, in which one character's epistemology triumphs over mysticism and superstition in the Dark Ages. The character with the healthier epistemology happens to be an Arab (or Persian, it's not clear which) who accompanies some Vikings to fight some evil force in the north.

I rarely go to movie theaters anymore, and now do most of my movie-watching on Netflix. But don't get me started on my favorite films vs. the ones I hate the most.

Tim C said...

" But don't get me started on my favorite films vs. the ones I hate the most."

I'd actually be very interested in that as a column. I suspect we would strongly agree but I wonder about differences...for instance A Night At the Opera/Brain Donors which in my view are reasonably "correct" comedy (poking fun at the deserved rather than the good)....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tim, that it would be very interesting to see a column about Ed's favorite movies. For a list of some his non-favorite movies you can visit his column on Nihilism in Cinema. He names a few there, but if you go to the comments of that column, you'll find a whole list of some of Ed's favorite movies.

Go ahead, get him started, but then you can always visit Ed's article on Hollywood's nihilism. If you click in the comments section, you'll get a about 3 months worth of Ed's favorite movies and not so favorite movies.

Victoria said...

This was both ennervating and frustrating to read. I find much these days that delights me, but so much more that makes me despair for the immediate future.
I see so many people raising their children to be "sensitive" and "caring" when all they're really doing is making them weak and rudderless. It frustrates me SO much because I'd love to get pregnant and try to encourage a little bit more self-awareness and independence in the next generation, but finances are such that I could only have a kid with government assistance. The idea is abhorrent to me, but then I think, "why not?" According to the voting public and my government, I am "in need". I've been living under the poverty line for years, trying to make it as a small business owner. Just this year my husband and I opted to max out our credit cards and start a new food joint here in TN when we both got laid off. In doing so, we've created four jobs, but at the cost of putting our personal hopes and aspirations on hold. Again.
I'm just so damn frustrated with people's blindness that I want to throw in the towel. The funniest part is that I can't get health insurance I can afford, even on the government's (excuse me, the taxpayers' dime) UNLESS I am pregnant. How's that for irony?
So what do I do? Keep toiling, helping my local economy at the cost of my personal life? Ugh I hate feeling like there's no good path forward. I see no light at the end of any tunnel, because so many people are determined to believe in the 'greater good.' My phone keyboard doesn't have symbols to translate the sounds of disgust emanating from my mouth right now.

Anonymous said...

Ed, if we ever had enough votes to ratify a 28th Amendment, how do we prevent all three branches of government which are already running over the Constitution from not doing the same with a 28th Amendment?

Anonymous said...

Victoria, 10 years ago I wanted to have children, but the thought of having to rely on public schools to educate my children because I would not be able to afford a private school or home schooling, was enough to deter me. I chose to forgo motherhood because I knew I could not afford to raise children myself. The irony is that even though I don’t have children, today about 45% of my income is stolen in taxes to pay for other people’s children.

Anonymous said...

Victoria, moral fortitude is what you'll need to find within yourself to survive and not surrender to the moochers and looters.

Victoria said...

My mind will never surrender to them, and my wallet is already forced to. Not sure if taking advantage of their stupidity qualifies as surrendering, but that's part of why I have this debate. Because of shitty schools, you opted out of motherhood, but 15 socialist hippies went for it, so the balance is outta whack. If some children in the next generation are not taught the principles of self responsibility, there really is no hope. Succeeding generations will just continue to tear down the Constitution and all it stands for, and keep trying slightly different forms of socialism until mob rule is officially in effect. Of course, me having one kid won't really do much to affect the balance. But how many other people are saying that and by not risking their principles, end up just making the plight worse?
I'm stymied and so sad.

BLNelson said...

Ed - I see where I was "off" - depends on context. Thanks

madmax said...

Regarding Western women converting to Islam:

As pathetic as it is, Islam offers women masculinity, family and structure. Feminism sets women at war with their biology. But I think there is more. The Left demonizes anything associated with Western/European culture (pre-1960s). So these women are probably suffused with a contempt for Christianity and a respect for multiculturalism. Put that all together and you get this suicidal phenomenon. And of course feminists will be silent on this. They have to be. As egalitarians and relativists, they can never fully condemn Islam and say it is evil. That would violate their core beliefs.

Edward Cline said...

MadMax: That's a new take on why Western women convert to Islam: "I'm just this person who has these two things on my chest and different plumbing from men's, but that's irrelevant because I'm just another of Allah's creations and so are men, but men seem to be fixated on my extraneous attributes, so I'd better cover up lest I provoke them. I mean, when's the last time you saw a Playboy fold-out of a person in a burqa?"

Anonymous said...

Western women who convert to Islam may do so because feminism/multiculturalism has taught them, or reinforced their, self-loathing. In which case, Islam is the perfect choice.

And don't forget, the savages have the "right" to invade and destroy civilization in combination with their leftist allies.

Anonymous said...

FYI: This article by Ed - and its comments - includes many of his movie recommendations.

Edward Cline said...

Thanks, Grant. You're the second person to recommend that column.

Tim C said...

Ah nice - I recall that column now, but didn't know the comments had bloomed such.


Oh and I do agree about Ronin (the only movie in the column I've actually seen)...what an empty bunch of spectacular crap.